This morning we continue our study of the life of Joseph. He now is the Prime Minister of Egypt, which is in the grip of a world-wide famine. Joseph’s brothers, with the exception of Benjamin, have come to purchase food. They have no idea what became of Joseph; they assume he’s dead. They are ushered into the Prime Minister’s presence. They bow before him, fulfilling the dream God gave Joseph in his childhood. They don’t recognize Joseph, so he decides to use this to test their character. Do they admit their wrong-doing? Are they repentant? Have they changed? Joseph imprisons them and secretly listens to their conversation. Yes, their hearts are changing, their consciences are becoming more sensitive. Joseph is so moved that he weeps (Genesis 42:24).
But the test of their character was not yet complete. How deep was their repentance? Had their overall character changed? Joseph put more pressure on them to see (Genesis 42:25–28). They were thrilled to be out of Egypt, but there was no celebrating going on. Joseph’s brothers found themselves in a serious dilemma, and this is the first time the brothers openly acknowledged that God was involved in what was happening to them. It is the law of sowing and reaping. The longer we live with unconfessed, unrepented of sin, the more pressure God applies. That’s what’s happening with Joseph’s brothers. The pressure is building—and it continues (v. 30-35).
They were gripped by great fear; they had no reason to believe that their money had been purposely returned to them. Now they would not only be considered spies, but thieves as well. All of this was just too much for old Jacob (v. 36). Reuben, the oldest, tried to calm Jacob (v. 36-38), but Jacob had good reason not to trust him (cf. 35:22 and 49:3-5). As some of you know first-hand, trust, once lost, is not easily restored. But in the midst of all this turmoil, God was at work. He always is. The famine continued oppressing the land, and in desperation Jacob instructed his sons to return to Egypt to buy more food. This time it was Judah who reminded Jacob that they had been warned not to return without Benjamin (43:8–15).
As they approached the mansion, they were shaking in their sandals. They were certain that they would be charged with stealing and taken captive as slaves (43:15-25). They wasted no time explaining what had happened earlier and returning the money. They had claimed to be honest men (42:11), but Joseph wanted to find out if they really were! Joseph’s servant put them at ease, even claiming that God was behind all this. The brothers must have been astonished—a presumably polytheistic Egyptian, talking to them about the God of their father! For the past twenty some years they had tried to ignore God, but now he has their full attention.
To his great relief, Joseph learned that his father was alive and doing well (v. 28), and he saw his younger brother Benjamin, who was now about twenty-three years old (the last time Joseph had seen him he was about one year old; v. 29–31). When food was served, Benjamin received a portion of food that was five times greater than everyone else’s. Joseph did this in order to test if they were still controlled by jealousy. Joseph had been Jacob’s favorite, and when Joseph disappeared, Benjamin would have taken his place as the favored son. Joseph wanted to know, “Do they hate Benjamin like they hated me?” The brothers had passed the “honesty test”, would they pass the “jealousy test?” You will have to come back next week to find out!
Till then, what do we learn? 1. Trust, once lost, it is not easily regained. 2. If we violate trust, we should seek to rebuild it with total honesty and true repentance. 3. In cases where we cannot rebuild trust, we must not assume the posture of a victim. Rather, we should move forward and cultivate our relationship with Jesus Christ. 4. If someone violates our trust, we should do all that we can to help that person rebuild that trust. Jacob did not help Reuben rebuild trust, but Joseph did take those steps with his brothers. In his heart he had already forgiven his brothers, but he wanted to determine whether or not he could trust them moving forward. 5. It is sometimes wise to test a person’s honesty and trustworthiness, but it must be done with proper motives and appropriate methods.